My Top 10 Books of 2012

It’s time again for the list of books that I enjoyed most this year.  As always, only some of these books were published in 2012, but they were all a part of my 2012 experience.

gone-girl-book-cover-med1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Each of my  top 5 could easily have been #1.  In the end, I put Gone Girl in the top spot because on almost every page I muttered to myself, “How is she DOING this?”

I want to be a mystery novel lover, because the genre is so huge and so there are so many pleasures to be had, but I often get halfway through a mystery and admit to myself that I simply don’t care who did it or why  (P. D. James is someone who often disappoints me this way).  Other times I don’t even get that far, because I am so distracted by the poor writing.  There are a few writers who never let me down. Kate Atkinson is one; Tana French (see below) is another; and now, I have Gillian Flynn, and I am so, so grateful.

personbe2. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

This was a Christmas gift from my husband, and I read it in less than 24 hours.  Heti reminds me of Lydia Davis, but without Davis’s chilly control.  Don’t get me wrong – chilly control is what I’m all about – but How Should a Person Be is exhilarating, befuddling, and inspiring.  Imagine if Lena Dunham made a film that was only interior monologue – it would be a bit like this novel.  Self-absorbed and miniature in detail, yet huge in scope.  Full of laugh-out-loud gorgeous turns of phrase.  I’ve known of Heti for a while but have never felt inclined toward her work – I’ll go back and investigate her earlier books now.

BROKEN HARBOUR_UK3. Broken Harbour by Tana French

See comments on Gone Girl, above.  Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is a collection of those rare finds: murder mysteries that are re-readable.  Not only did I list her novel The Likeness as one of my Top 10 Books of 2010, but it may be one of my favourite books of all time.  Broken Harbour may be just as good.  The intersection of intricate plotting with beautiful writing is almost unparallelled.  Also: set in Ireland, which can’t hurt.

areyoumymother4. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

This book should probably be #1, but my top picks are all so good that ranking them is stymieing me.  I love graphic novels.  Bechdel’s Fun Home, in which she grapples with the legacy of her complicated father, is also one of my favourite books of all time.  In this sequel of sorts, she turns her analytical eye on her equally difficult relationship with her mother.  One difference: her mother is still alive, and an active participant in the writing and narration of the story.  Fascinating, unrelenting, and funny, and Bechdel’s artwork never fails to slay me.

book-children-succeed5. How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

I have written several posts on Tough’s work, including a review of this book and a meditation on an excerpt that was published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  He is a deep thinker on educational issues, yet he writes fluidly and accessibly and has a warm and gentle sense of humour.  This is not just a work of social science; it’s an entertaining and enlightening read.

marbles6. Marbles by Ellen Forney

Another graphic novel.  Forney’s chronicle of her battle with bipolar disorder is hilarious, touching, instructive and hopeful.  Her honest recounting of her own experience is interwoven with historical and medical info.  The central question – “Do I have to be crazy to be a great artist?” – is not answered, but the exploration is illuminating.

Phantomtollbooth7. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

One of my projects this year was to prepare a list of 42 children’s books for reading in my Child Studies course.  When I asked for recommendations, The Phantom Tollbooth came up over and over.  I’d never read it. Now I have.  It is great, and the final line is now one of my all-time favourite quotations.

basilef8. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Compiling the above-mentioned children’s book list has involved re-reading lots of old childhood favourites.  I’d forgotten how fantastic this novel is.  I must have read it 10 or 12 times as a child, and reading it again now was perhaps my most delightful reading experience of the year, not just for the book itself but for the immediacy with which it transported me back to being a child reader, the wonder of which is difficult to retrieve in adulthood.

(Note: the finished list of books for the Child Studies course can be found here, if you’re interested.)

filmclub9. The Film Club by David Gilmour

This was also a re-read; it was one of the memoirs I taught in my Personal Narrative course this fall.  I thought my students might like it – a story about a father who lets his teenage son drop out of school if he agrees that they watch and discuss three films a week, chosen by the father – but I was surprised by how much they enjoyed it, and how much I enjoyed it the second time around.

quiet10. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Is this a cheat?  I didn’t actually read this book – I listened to it as an audiobook, and then bought the book so that I could read it, and haven’t gotten around to it yet.  People keep telling me that listening to a book counts, and I loved this book, so it makes the list.  If you often wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you don’t love going to parties, you’d rather write an email than talk on the phone, and you feel anxious if you don’t get some alone time every day, then this book is for you.  It helped me embrace my introverted weirdness and recognize its strengths.

Please tell me your favourite book(s) of the year!  And happy reading in 2013.

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32 responses

  1. Everyone is talking about Gone Girl…which I am definitely going to read. I am, however, currently reading Flynn’s novel Dark Places and I have to say it’s really good.
    Happy New Year

  2. When we went to see Time Clock at the National Gallery last year, we were in the museum in the middle of the night, and almost entirely be ourselves. It made me think of From the Mixed Up Files…, which I too read a bunch of times as a kid, but have not picked it up or even seen it since. I will have to check out Gillian Flynn and Tana French. I love the mystery novels, but have read very few female writers of the genre.

  3. Thanks for the great list and thanks for the gift of Gone Girl. It’s next on my list to read. Love Kate Atkinson. I haven’t read any PD James for a while for the very reason you mentioned. I don’t care enough. I feel she has become mean in her writing. I also love Tana French and Alison Bechdel and haven’t read either of these mentioned. So thanks for the tip. I can read the occasional “not too badly written” piece of fluffy murder mystery as a bedtime relaxer. But I agree, when it is bad, it *can* just make me irritated. I heard the author of Film Club, David Gilmour interviewed on CBC and was not moved to check out the book, but will do so now. I also saw the TED talk by Susan Cain. And though I never thought I was an introvert am now convinced I am;/.. Thanks again! Great post.

  4. Oops, mixing up P.D. with Ruth Rendell whom I read interchangeably for a number of years. Haven’t read either for a couple of years as the last book by Rendell convinced me she didn’t like any of her characters and neither did I. P.D. lost me a while back too. Should look into what she is up to at 90 something now. Love Minette Walters. Like a lot Dorothy L. Sayers and Josephine Tey.

  5. I want to read ALL these books. I’m a bit pathetic because my reading these last few years has been so closely tied to my line of study that I haven’t read much for “pleasure” – that being said, if I had to name my favorite books of 2012 – I’d say The Last Professor by Frank Donoghue, Education by Design by Strange and Banning, and Generation Me by Jean Twenge. That being said, I read The Bitch in the House in it’s hilarious entirety last night and think that all women should read it :-) Great post and thanks for the reviews…going to download one right now!

    • TCFB: I sympathize – teaching English means that in my down time, I rarely want to read. My pleasure reading is mostly confined to the holidays. I hope you enjoy some of these – thanks for the recommendations!

  6. Thanks for including my book on your list! I’m especially thrilled to be in the company of “The Phantom Tollbooth.” That was one of my favorite books from childhood, and I’m looking forward to reading it with my son before long.

    • Paul: It’s my honour and pleasure. I’ll be returning to your book often, perhaps more often than I will to PT, and I’m looking forward to sharing them both with my students next semester.

  7. I’ve just started reading Gone Girl, and only one chapter in, I feel like I’m reading something tongue-in-cheek, like a melodramatic sitcom. Is it a comedy?

  8. thanks allot for the recommendation i think my next book to read will be Broken Harbour, sounds interesting by the way you describe it, anyway awesome blog you have here, keep up the good work!!

  9. Hi, I love reading other people’s list of their top ten favourites, so this caught my eye immediately.
    What attracted me most was the title: “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. I went straight to my shelf and found “How Children Fail” by the late John Holt. As a teacher myself I can’t wait to start on the former book, a much more upbeat title! I hope it gives me some inspiration!

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